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[Page 280]

Nahum Dov Kundst

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Nahum Dov Kundst

In Ulitzki Street lived, worked and bestowed everything exalted and noble of the spirit of Israel, the teacher Nahum Dov Kundst, the first teacher of the first Hebrew school in Sokółka, of which he was manager and founder. He was an erudite man, permeated with a love of Torah and education, Shomer-Mitzvoth and decent behavior, he won the right – and succeeded – in bestowing upon his pupils a Zionist education and established a generation of students. His students are spread out in all corners of Israel.

After years of fruitful work in his town of Sokółka, he succeeded in his dreams and expectations, he realized his soul's deepest longing and immigrated to Palestine. As a simple citizen of his neighborhood, he was among the initiators and founders of the first synagogue in his neighborhood in Hadera.

From earliest dawn Torah students of all ages clustered round him drinking thirstily his words of wisdom.

Benny Kundst (Amanuti)

[Page 281]

The Teachers of Sokółka

Translated by Selwyn Rose

There were differences between them. One liked to pull ears almost until you fainted. The other one liked to hit you about the body, the third even to curse and insult. But they all did it with one intention – for the good of the pupil. They placed upon us the “yoke” of the Torah and we carried the burden. From fear of the Rabbi, we fulfilled the commandments willingly – and sometimes to fend off punishments.


A. “Der Deretchiner Melamud

They called him that, in Yiddish, because that was the town he came from to Sokółka (as was the habit and custom in all the towns and villages, the Jews didn't call each other by their family names but used nicknames. Sometimes even by the names of their wives – like: Berl Hanna-Reizil'es on the name of his wife Reizel, or Yank'l Leizilis from the family name Lazer, or Khatskil der Krynker from the town of his origin, Krynki, etc.). Nobody knew, often, the real family name of the teacher from Deretchin.

Once – at the end of winter, with the melting snow, and the sun beginning to warm, we sat crowded in our narrow dark room, the Gemara open on the table in front of us our eyes and hearts not on the pages – but outside, breathing in a little warm air, a little sunshine, a little freedom. We rebelled and stampeded outside. The Deretchiner was filled with rage. When we returned he took his revenge on us – there was not one who did not feel the strength of his arm. But we also had our say and were not silent, and we returned it to him in good measure. One bright day, just before noon, one of the pupils, with the help of others, climbed up onto the roof and tipped into the chimney a heap of sand and stones that had been prepared ready. The entire mess spilled into some pots that were heating on the fire. The Rabbi's wife almost fainted and screamed that the whole roof was collapsing and was going to fall. When they went outside, they were in time to see the guilty child climbing down from the roof. The Deretchiner hit the boy over the ear and it resulted in a serious injury.


B. The teacher Yosef Haim

A tall Jew with his tsitsit peeping out from between his clothes. A long, expressionless face with downcast eyes, it seemed as if he was not looking at us at all, and couldn't see us. But it was not so: he could see you and your eyes and your head buried in the Gemara and heaven help you if – G-d forbid – he catches you while you are busy with your friend or letting your attention waver from your studies; his one remedy? The Hickory-stick…he would happily and victoriously call his strongest pupils and with their help would put into action the “order of the cane” – saying: A Jew who receives corporal punishment, even though it is not Erev Yom-Kippur is promised “a place in the world to come”. He would add: “There is no acquisition of Torah without suffering.” There was hardly a child among his pupils who was not assured of a “place in the world to come”!

The Rabbi also enjoyed cursing. A pupil, who didn't recite the lesson in the approved chant, would win the right to a very unmusical curse! When he began to curse in Yiddish “May you become swollen like a rounded hill with telegraph poles stuck all over it!” everyone - all the pupils would reply in chorus.

The deed of a pupil who earned such a curse didn't run to leave the room, for fear the curse would become reality, until the Rabbi and the pupils together repeated three times the neutralizing words of the curse: “May it not happen; may it not happen; may it not happen” – then the child would run from the room with tears coming from his eyes.


C. Der Shtabiner Melamud

Named after his home town – Shtabin – He is etched in my mind and his likeness is in front of my eyes like an impressed seal on the course of my life. A short man, rapid in his movements, quiet and intelligent, not angered and doesn't anger others. His sharp-eyes penetrated deep into the soul of every pupil and he had a common language with everyone according to his nature. Each of us saw him as a friend; he loved all of us and we, as one, loved him. And in no place and at no time did we ever achieve like we achieved with the Shtabiner. We knew that our toil was not wasted. After a lesson in Gemara when we were feeling tired, we knew we were permitted to rest, to breathe a little fresh air and in a moment the class-room emptied. The slightest hint from him was enough for us to know it was time to return to the Heder and continue with our studies. We conquered every difficult topic because we loved the difficulty. He always said:”the stubborn man cannot teach”. Every Friday, he would read from the week's portion, explaining that it helped us to come nearer to the Creator, the Torah and the Jewish ethic. And we continued to learn with him in the “Talmud Torah”.

In the vicinity of the Talmud Torah stood a wooden hut of sorts called the “Shteibl”. The Shteibl was the house of prayer of the Kotzker Hassidim; their prayers were all song and joyfulness. But what really attrcted us to the hut was that after prayers and everyone had gone home, there remained just one Hassid all on his own and he began to pray in a loud – even shouting – voice full of tears and bitterness that penetrated and shook our very souls. We stood there outside the window listening to his conversation with his Creator, the Holy-One, Blessed be He, begging for mercy, complaining – “You love us so much!” – “Is it possible?” He asked.

The “Talmud Torah” was very close to the big synagogue and in the winter in the short days, we learned until late in the evening. At night we liked to learn because we could concentrate more easily and with mournful music accompanying every word we felt, somehow we were adults and had matured; then we returned home with torches in our hands, we passed the big synagogue and there, on the threshold stood a man calling each one of us by name to enter and be called up to the Torah for a reading. We heard a lot in those days of the dead rising up from their graves and arranging prayer sessions calling on all passers-by to participate.

Since then even the torches didn't comfort us very much; we were terrified. For a long time either one of our parents would come and escort us home. At night we would see in our imagination the synagogue, with dead people praying and going up to the Torah and we were too scared to go past the place!

Gedaliahu Weisman

[Page 283]

The Kantor Family

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The teacher Pnina Kantor
The teacher Avraham Kantor


Avraham Kantor

Avraham Kantor was born in Sokółka in 1894. He received a traditional and also a general education in the municipal school. In his youth he joined the active young people centered in Sokółka in the “Literary Society”.

At the end of the First World War Kantor worked in the Municipality of Biał-ystok and his future wife, Pnina Wilanski was a tea-cher in the Hebrew gym-nasium of Białystok which was founded at that time. Kantor demonstrated great enthusiasm and organizational capacity in opening kitchens for the poor at low cost or even with free meals, a pension organization and an anonymous donor charity organization. For some years he continued with social works as a member of the “Mishkan Ya'acov” synagogue.

During the 'Thirties he decided to immigrate to Palestine. At first he went alone. In Palestine, he started working for the Kupat Holim of the Histadrut Ha-Ovdim in the Tiberius branch, and from there he transferred to Hadera, where he was instrumental in the expansion and re-organization of the branch.

Only a few weeks after the arrival of his wife with the children, he passed away 10th October 1934, leaving behind him his wife and two children.


Pnina Kantor (née Wilanski)

Pnina Kantor was born and grew up in a small town (Krynki, near Bialystok), in the Pale of Settlement for Jews in Tsarist Russia. While was still a young girl of 16-17, at the time of the First World War, she left her parents' home for Warsaw where she studied for her future career as a teacher.

At the end of her studies she arrived in Sokółka in order to work as a Hebrew teacher and after a short time joined a group of initiators which was founding the Hebrew gymnasium of Białystok. Initiating groups, especially from among the youth Zionist movements (“Young Zionists”), saw the times as being just right to establish – for the first time in the history of the Diaspora – Hebrew schools in which a full education will be given, in all the normal subjects (and not just Jewish religious topics as had been normal up until then) in the Hebrew language. Pnina Kantor was selected with the first of the builders of full Hebrew schools in Poland.

The kindergarten children with their teacher, Pnina Kantor


The kindergarten children with their teacher, Pnina Kantor


In 1934 Pnina joined her husband in Palestine and since then was engaged only in education in schools and rearing her children at home. She died 15th December 1963.

Her method of teaching was a rare merging of a mother and a teacher, guide and even, perhaps, a touch of the disciplinarian. She was pleasant, encouraging and understanding. She showed no bitterness or displeasure, she did nothing to restrain or repress the child's soft personality; there was noth-ing in her attitude to hurt the feelings of a sensitive child; indeed her personality, stability, quietness, the order and organ-ization to the point of precision were impressive. Her energy – all brought the children in her care an education in manners, studies, achievements in an atmosphere of freedom and development.

The effect of her method was displayed quite clearly on holidays and festivals when she organized events for the children and parents together. All the pupils took part and each had a part to play. As a finishing touch, there would be a dance with everyone joining hands in a large circle, pupils parents and teachers. Everyone present would obey the command of Pnina to get up, join hands and join in the circle – a big family circle.

A celebratory gathering of the “Tarbut” school on
the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem


[Page 287]

On Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen

Mordecai Bonim

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Rabbi Shimshon Katzenellenbogen, A short Jewish man with a big soul and big in Torah. He founded a Yeshiva for Talmud and taught in it. In 1928, when I went to Palestine for the opening of the University, I went to visit him for a parting blessing. He was a sickly man and physically weak. He picked himself up from his bed and began to cry: “How great is your worth that you have merited going to our beloved land and to be present at such an illustrious occasion. We can't even imagine its im-portance. I beg of you – don't forget to bring me one small present: all I ask is a clod of earth from our precious Homeland,” he begged with tears in his eyes. I promised and kept my promise and brought it for him from our Holy Land. It is hard to des-cribe the affection he showed that little clump of earth, caressing it with tears in his eyes; he said: “The Gemara tells of one of the great Talmudic sages when he came from Babylon to visit our land he would kiss the stones of Akko. I have never been in Akko but I am happy to kiss here the earth of the Holy Land and perhaps we will have the right to see the realization of the hope promised by our sages that the “Future of the Land of Israel is to spread all over the world.”

I visited Sokółka one year before the outbreak of that terrible war and went to see him; by this time he was completely bed-ridden but his face shone when he saw me and he struggled to his feet to give me a strong hug, holding me close to his heart saying with his voice choking on tears: “It is your happiness that you lived to acquire this status while alive.”


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